Approaching the Autumn of Life


The back deck of a boat is a great place for drinking beer and contemplating random questions, like, “How many gallons of water are there in this lake?”, or “What was that movie with Topher Grace and Dennis Quaid, where Topher is the boss and is dating Dennis’s daughter?” You know, important stuff.

My latest boat deck question: “If my lifespan were mapped to seasons of a year, what season of life am I in right now?” Hmmm…let’s Google it and find out.

The answer: The average life expectancy of an American male is 78 years, 9 months. I’m 48 and 10, which gives me roughly 30 years or 38% of life left (gulp). That puts me near the end of a beautiful summer and on the road to the autumn of my life.

Unfortunately, autumn is my least favorite season of the year.

Yeah I know, changing leaves, sunny but crisp days, pumpkin spice tacos, blah blah. I just don’t get the point of autumn. Winter is for gathering the happenings of the year together for closure, spring is for the renewal of life and possibility, and summer is for unbridled joy and self-expression. Autumn? Pretty much just football season and preparing for winter to arrive.

I FEEL the passing of summer in my body though, sad to see it go yet unable or unwilling to keep up with its pace. My bones creak a bit more than they should, friends are having surgeries that go along with their newly minted AARP cards, and I honestly don’t care that I know zero songs on the radio. I still have plenty of life left in me, but it’s changing somehow, and I’m feeling unsettled by it.

Maybe this is why my head is filled with questions about what I’m going to do next. I’ve done what I’ve done so far, but do I have to keep doing those same things? What else can I do? What do I want to do?

I can feel my brain flailing around, questions swirling like whirling dervishes, dancing to a tune I can’t quite follow.

Greg McKeown, in his excellent book, Essentialism: The Disciplined Pursuit of Less (seriously, read it), asks what could be THE question. He was coaching a team competing in a business management exercise, and they were stuck. He asked them,

What question are you trying to answer? What are you really trying to accomplish, and what decisions need to be made to accomplish it?

I’ve answered the question I was trying to answer up until now, which was, “Can I do it?” with a definitive yes. I’ve proved I can survive, even thrive as an adult. But there’s more, and I know it.

What if I newly, freshly asked myself, “What is the question I’m trying to answer now? What am I trying to accomplish?” Something wants to get created; perhaps I just need to listen to it, align with it, then get after it.

It could be that the autumn of life is about re-engaging, clearing out the cobwebs of old thinking and patterns, discovering questions that don’t have answers yet, setting out to explore one’s inner wilderness with knowledge, a sprinkling of wisdom, and the energy to tread a new path to a compelling question to answer.

Maybe autumn isn’t so bad after all.

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